On the 4th of April, 2005, Officer Christina Lau, of the Singaporean Police force, was driving through the thick sheets of tropical rain that fell over Malaysia. She sped towards the border to Singapore, returning home after a day of work, with nothing in particular on her mind; a normal person, much like you and I. That was, until she lost control of the vehicle, the tires skidding against the slick road as the car swerved off the path… She awoke, almost an entire day after the incident, in a hospital bed, surrounded by concerned family members and a doctor, who informed her, with great poignancy, that, in the accident, she had suffered severe damage to her spinal cord, greatly impairing control of her fingers, and almost completely severing her control of her legs. Devastated by the news, Christina Lau retreated into a shell of introversy and isolation, confining herself to her home and terrified of leaving her nest of comfort, lest she be ridiculed for her confinement to her wheelchair. This continued for months on end, until she discovered something magical; an art that would not reintegrate herself into the world, but also allow her to create something beautiful; timeless. When Christina Lau discovered mouth painting, she was reluctant. The idea of making such a radical change from the life she was living, quite frankly, scared her. However, with encouragement, she managed to begin painting, and soon picked up an aptitude for it; creating works of art that few people, disabled or not, can match in skill. However, more importantly to her was the social aspect of it; when she was painting, she wasn’t discriminated by her disability, and when she was around other mouth-painters, she felt she belonged, a feeling that, regrettably, only very few disabled people can experience.
The Unfair Treatment of the Disabled in Singapore
In a survey conducted in 2016 by the Straits Times, it was found that, out of the 477 disabled people that had taken the survey, a staggering 7 in 10 stated that they had issues “living with dignity”, due to their treatment from other people. Not only is this alarming statistic in and of itself, but it becomes even more worrying when contrasted with statistics concerning the percentage of disabled people in Singapore. 2.1% of all students in Singapore suffer from a legally recognised disability, 3.4% of all adults aged between 19-49 in Singapore suffer from disability, and an incredibly 13.3% of all Singaporean citizens aged above 50 suffer from a handicap. While this may seem like a small, almost insignificant percentage at first glance, it quickly develops into something far more substantial, when confronted with the population of Singapore; the statistics point to not hundreds, but thousands of members of our communities suffering from a serious disability, and, yet, Singaporean law has been reluctant to modify itself to better aid them in their journey to integration. In 2012, a study conducted by the Singaporean Ministry of Manpower indicated that there were 275 work vacancies open for disabled people, which may have seemed like an improvement from the situation in 2010, where there were as few as 121 job openings available, it still isn’t enough, as disabled citizens are not only faced with a handicap concerning their physical or mental state, but, perhaps even cripplingly, massive discrimination in job applications. This can cause many of them to revert to a state similar to Christina Lau’s, where they are not only discriminated against and thus, incapable of actively contributing to society, but are also unmotivated to do so, which can have significant effects not only to their professional careers, but on their general interactions with society.
Why Change Must Occur
Christina Lau travels in and out of Singapore on a regular basis, giving motivational talks about overcoming her disability in educational institutes; educating students about the difficulties many disabled individuals face in every aspect of their lives. Her works are displayed in multiple galleries around Singapore, acting not only as a viable source of income for Christina, but also as a medium; a medium to convey the inner struggle every disabled person goes through, regardless of age. As citizens of Singapore, and members of such a dynamic and complex community, it is not only in our best interests, but our duty, to modify legislation, to create a more accepting and open environment for the disabled. This would not only be a great step forwards from a humanistic perspective, as it promotes the creation of an atmosphere of understanding concerning the difficulties these individuals face on a day-to-day basis, and acceptance in treating these people as active, contributing parts of our community, but also from a purely economic perspective, as the integration of thousands of employees into the workforce would be of great benefit to the Singaporean industry, and would bolster Singapore’s already-powerful economy to greater heights, acting as a mutually beneficial, ethical, and relatively simple way to boost the economy, all while aiding a long-ignored portion of our community.
Efforts to reintegrate disabled people back into our community are not only effective from an industrial perspective, and will be richly rewarded in future through the myriad of economic benefits Singapore can reap from them, but are also necessary from an ethical perspective. As members of a dynamic and active society, it is not only in our best interests, but our duty, to render Singapore a safe place; a place where all people, regardless of disability, be it mental or physical. Change must come; there is no alternative for this. I can only hope that, through this article, I have given you insight; insight into the punishingly difficult life these people are forced to live in every day. It is through this insight, through this empathy, that we can understand each other, and make Singapore a better place.
• “Workers With Disabilities Face Greater Difficulties In Job Searches.” SPD – Singapore, www.spd.org.sg/updates/detail/workers-with-disabilities-face-greater-difficulties-in-job-searches-140.html.
•Zaccheus, Melody, and Priscilla Goy. “People with Mental Issues Face Job Discrimination.”The Straits Times, 8 Oct. 2016, www.straitstimes.com/singapore/people-with-mental-issues-face-job-discrimination.
•“CHRISTINA LAU LAY LIAN.” ActiveSG, www.myactivesg.com/team-singapore/athletes/l/christina-lau-lay-lian.